Bridgeport, Connecticut discovered what happens when the law is enforced. People would drive into the city, and if they survived to drive away would get a ticket in the mail for violating a parking ordinance. After that they might not drive back.
The beginning is a familiar story. A company came to elected officials with an offer they couldn’t refuse. We will give you smart parking meters that generate tickets automatically. All we ask is a share of the revenue.
And so Bridgeport’s parking ordinances started to be enforced. You got a few minutes for free, enough time to feed the meter, and after that the letter of the law applied.
Some cities have basically the honor system where a police officer might visit a meter a few times a week. Some — Cambridge, Massachusetts comes to mind — have hypervigilant meter maids. But even the most aggressive human can not match a machine that always watches every space.
Business owners complained about missing customers. Residents decided they did not want parking laws enforced. The city gave up and went back to human-enforced meters. (And learned its own lesson about the letter of the law — federal law says parking meters can’t be over 48 inches tall.)
The new meters are connected for a modern world. I met such meters in another city recently.
The lot had meters that took coins and a pay station for credit cards. At the machine I entered the number of my parking meter. After the fourth time trying to enter it I caught the message that flashed for less than a second — the number was invalid. I needed a three digit number. The meter had a two digit and a four digit number. I went back to check and there was a small label with a three digit number. I tried that and got a receipt which told me I had just bought free parking for some random person in another lot.
It’s not pay and display. It’s pay and pray. You get a receipt instead of a ticket for your dash. My receipt had a different lot number. Somewhere the central scrutinizer was telling a tablet to tell a human not to write a ticket for a certain space that was otherwise indistinguishable from an unpaid space.
Like pay and display the motive is to prevent the next person from using leftover time.
Signs told me they also accept pay by phone. I could buy an hour of parking for $6.50. That’s a $5 account activation fee, a 50 cent surcharge, and $1 for the parking space itself. Or I could use an app which comes with about 50 pages of terms of service. I skimmed them. It’s not a government app. It’s a third party app. In order to park in Massachusetts you have to agree that some company will take your money and promise nothing. The city might give you a ticket anyway. If you want to complain you have to travel to Georgia. It’s the kind of illusory contract that the tech industry thrives on.
At least that meter still took quarters. When I tried to park a block away the meters didn’t take money.
I could carry a bucket of quarters every visit and hope to find a slot, but a pipe cutter is looking a lot more appealing.
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